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How to Identify a True Leader

By Kayla Harrison
Business.com / Employees / Last Modified: June 12, 2018
Image credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

The Business.com community asked how to test for leadership ability. We found answers.

The success of a business lies in the hands of its leaders. The culture of a business is first established in the workplace, and leaders set the tone. Businesses will crumble under leaders with unattainable goals, a lack of vision, broken communication or a big ego. With the right leaders, businesses will soar.

Business.com's community members often ask how to test if a person has strong leadership skills, and we found some answers. Here are four ways to identify a true leader. 

1. Observe character and work ethic.

Before deciding if someone fits the leadership role or position available, you want to determine what it is about leaders that you're looking for. You need to know what characteristics and work ethic you want your leaders to have. From that point, you can begin to observe which of those you see inside the workplace and seek out potential leaders. [Read related: Popular Management Theories Decoded] 

Marcel Schwantes, principal and founder of Leadership from the Core, wrote an article for Inc. about ways to identify a leader within a business. He explains that great leaders put the business first and lead by example. 

"They are not motivated by power, wealth, status, fame or approval," Schwantes writes. "They are, instead, intrinsically motivated and humble enough to always do the right thing." 

A true leader communicates with their team to keep them updated and to show that they are valued. Marillyn Hewson, chairman, president, and CEO of Lockheed Martin, believes that leaders should communicate often in order to provide stability within the workplace, even during times of change. 

"They must motivate their team to perform their best, even when the organization is experiencing uncertainty," explains Hewson. "They help those around them to keep things in perspective, and stay focused on the mission — inspiring confidence that, whatever change the organization is going through now, there's a bright future ahead." 

True leaders will be the ones driving results, according to Schwantes. They will be the ones that are intentionally learning more, challenging themselves and others, improving the workplace environment and work ethic, and encouraging teams to achieve goals. 

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2. Provide opportunities in the workplace for leadership skills to emerge.

One of the most accurate ways to test a person's leadership skills is to put them in a leadership role. This could include mentoring and coaching, or even allowing them to experience a higher position. 

"Give high-potentials firsthand experience by rotating them through different roles and functions within the organization," Schwantes notes. "The point is to challenge, push and stretch their skill level." 

Having them try new experiences in different roles will allow you to gauge how they go about learning, if they have a growth mindset, and whether or not they do well under pressure and with additional responsibilities. 

In his book "Willpower Doesn't Work," (Hatchette Books, 2018) Benjamin Hardy discusses what it means to have a growth mindset and how it affects the way people work. 

"You approach challenges and failures as opportunities to grow. You're curious and seek to expand your knowledge and horizons," Hardy writes. "If you have a growth mindset...you believe you can actually get better at something, even though that growth is currently visible only in your mind." 

A true leader will seek to improve themselves and their work ethic. They accept challenges as opportunities to grow and they're eager to learn new skills.

3. Ask around.

The people who work, or have worked, side-by-side with potential leaders will have great insight about their skills and the impact they have on the business. Interviewing coworkers will give you additional feedback on whether or not a person has the personality and leadership style you're looking for. 

"Avoid asking leading questions like, 'Do you think Dave in Sales makes a good leader?'" Schwantes explains. Instead, "Ask people who they think would make a good future leader." 

4. Use predictive assessment tools and personality assessments.

Assessment tools vary in what they examine and the depth of the questions asked. There are personality, leadership skill and behavioral assessments. Before choosing a tool, you should make sure that it will test for the specific skills you want in a leader. 

Here are a few assessment tools that you can use:

  • Predictive Index "predicts primary personality characteristics and cognitive ability so you can predict workplace behaviors and on-the-job performance."
  • CPI 260 uses "a sophisticated technique to extract detailed insights about someone's personality; It is able to summarize and explain how other people would see that person, and how others would judge their leadership style."
  • NERIS Type Explorer determines personality type and shows optimal roles (careers/hobbies) and strategies (ways of achieving goals) for each.
  • CliftonStrengths Assessment allows you to "discover what you naturally do best and learn how to develop your greatest talents."

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